Battlefield 2042 is a reminder of how good the series can be

It’s been a long time since it felt like DICE understood what made Battlefield special. The series has always focused on massive fights across huge maps, but since 2011’s release of Battlefield 3, it’s felt like Battlefield was chasing the coattails of every other popular shooter franchise, from Call of Duty to Payday. But after nearly a decade in the wilderness, DICE has finally started to find the series’ roots again with Battlefield 2042. It may not achieve the highs of previous entries like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 or Battlefield 3, but it’s the most distinct and interesting the series has felt in years — at least, when it’s not getting in its own way.

Battlefield 2042, developed by DICE Interactive and Ripple Effect, is technically more like three games (or at least game concepts) rolled into one package. The game is multiplayer only, but offers three major modes: All-out War, Hazard Zone, and Portal.

While the latter two modes are new to the series, All-out War feels like the classic Battlefield experience. It includes Conquest, a game type where teams have to capture and hold certain areas, and Breakthrough, where one team attacks sequential capture points and the opponents defend them. In either mode, up to 128 players (on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X, with only 64 players possible on last-gen consoles) face off across expansive maps with all manner of vehicular support from jets, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers.

Image: DICE/Electronic Arts

In terms of staging epic fights between huge teams in sprawling environments, Battlefield 2042 comes close to some of the series’ highest watermarks — a feat few of the recent entries and even fewer other franchises can boast. The fights are thrilling, with dozens of players firing at once, and dozens of tiny skirmishes that bleed into one another. It’s chaotic and dazzling in a way few other shooters can be.

It doesn’t hurt that the game is absolutely gorgeous. There is a smattering of random weather effects like rainstorms, sandstorms, and even tornadoes, which all add to the visual chaos of firefights. The effects can occasionally be a bit disorienting, but it’s always enjoyable since players remain pretty easy to spot — thanks to some clever visual tricks, like cutting out flashy particles and clearing away non-essential shrubbery.

One unfortunate side effect of Battlefield 2042’s massive maps, which feel much larger than their counterparts from earlier games, is that they can take a little too long to cross on foot. There were a few matches of Conquest, particularly on the desert map Hourglass, which left me feeling like I was playing a battle royale game, following distant bursts of gunfire and far-off players, only to find that the action had moved elsewhere by the time I arrived. A certain amount of downtime can do wonders for the pacing of a Battlefield match, but here it often veered into outright boredom.

Speaking of battle royales: 2042’s new attachment system feels like it could have been ripped right out of PUBG, and it’s one of the highlights of this entry. With it, players can customize their weapons with several attachments in each slot — different sights or silencers, to name a couple — then adjust them on the fly during gameplay. This means you can use a long-range scope on your rifle while you’re wandering the mountains, but swap to a red-dot sight when you come upon a few buildings that need to be cleared out. It’s a simple feature, but it gives you the feeling of having an inventory of tricks at your disposal without overcomplicating the game. It makes each individual life feel like that much more of an adventure.

Image: DICE/Electronic Arts

The biggest issue with 2042’s traditional Battlefield modes was how often frustrating technical glitches popped up during my time with the game.

All of these impressions of the game are from a three-day remote review event which was hosted by EA and DICE. The event was broken into specific blocks where we played certain modes. However, the matchmaking had several issues and more than a few players (myself included) ran into several crashes. On top of that, there were issues of enemy players disappearing mid-fight, sliding dozens of meters across the ground at random, or dying and getting frozen in running animations, littering the warzone with dozens of fake corpses that made finding real enemies an unwelcome additional challenge.

It’s entirely possible that all of these bugs were issues with our early build of the game — DICE said it would put out one more patch between our version and the Early Access version that will be released on Nov. 12. As of the build I played, these issues weren’t necessarily game-breaking. But they were a source of frequent frustration, with at least one of them showing up in every match.

The event also left the game’s progression unclear. There are 22 weapons in Battlefield 2042, with dozens of attachments for each, as well as vehicle unlocks, equipment for each unique Specialist, and more. But our review accounts were given access to all of these things from the beginning, so it was difficult to get a sense of how long unlocking new items will actually take.

Image: DICE/Electronic Arts

As for Battlefield’s new modes, the event left even more questions. In Hazard Zone, several squads are dropped into a small portion of the game’s regular maps to retrieve data drives and earn credits, which can be used to temporarily purchase better Hazard Zone gear in future matches. Guarding these drives are AI squads, which players earn credits for killing. Extracting will give you the most possible credits, but only two squads get to extract each match, and the extractions themselves take several minutes to arrive. This is designed to make each match risky, but credits seem to stack up fairly quickly.

Here’s the thing, though: Battlefield 2042 doesn’t have its own voice chat — at least, not yet. During the event, EA and DICE divided players into pre-made squads and offered them Discord channels. According to DICE, there are plans to add voice chat after launch, but as of this writing, no one has confirmed to me when this might happen.

While this isn’t great for the regular modes, it makes Hazard Zone, an otherwise exciting mode focused on communication and teamwork, extremely frustrating for solo players and duos. The game does include a ping system, but it’s overly complicated to the point of being ineffectual, requiring several submenus to select anything that’s actually informative for your allies. So for the moment, Hazard Zone seems like a mode that will only be fun with pre-made squads.

Image: DICE/Ripple Effect/Electronic Arts

The game’s third major mode, Portal, functions as more of a “Battlefield medley.” DICE set up matches for us that included a VIP mode (which equipped one team with weapons from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and the other with weapons from Battlefield 1942) and two free-for-all modes (one that was supposed to be extra fast, and another that gave everyone rocket launchers but required us to jump five times in order to reload). While robust in their own right, none of these options felt suited to Battlefield at all, and weren’t terribly fun.

Portal also features more straightforward matches that import the older games’ rulesets directly. This allows you to play on maps like Caspian Border with Battlefield 3’s exact weapons and rules. All of these classic modes, along with a few community and DICE-made custom matches (hopefully some that are more interesting than what we played), will be available at launch for standard matchmaking in Portal, along with a server browser if you want to search out something more eclectic. While I can’t exactly call Portal fun yet, it does serve as a historical reminder of where the series came from, and how great it can be.

There’s still nothing quite like being in the middle of a massive firefight with dozens of players, while jets strafe the ground around you, and a tank rumbles over a hilltop only 50 feet away. DICE has been in search of that old Battlefield magic for more than a decade, and Battlefield 2042 comes extremely close. But 2042, at least so far, rarely manages to be much more than that. It doesn’t feel like a real step forward for the franchise, or a meaningful update on a 20-year old formula. As of now, I’m still waiting for that next big leap.

Battlefield 2042 will be released in Early Access on Nov. 12 and in full on Nov. 19 on Windows PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on PC during a press event hosted by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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